Sunday, December 20, 2009
Back online after a somewhat inconvenient computer mishap (thankfully now sorted out), I'm getting ready to post my selection of the best and worst singles of the decade - in the spirit of positive thinking, the list of best singles will be up first followed by the list of songs that made my blood boil, fists clench and swearing vocabulary expand even further.
In preparation for the first selection of top pop moments of the last ten years, here's a few ground rules I've laid down for my choices :
1. The song in question has to actually have charted as a single at some point in the decade - the rules governing the singles charts were modified around 2006 to allow songs to chart even if a physical version (such as a CD single) was not available in record shops to allow for the increasingly popular MP3 format to count towards chart placings, so any tune that has featured on the UK Top 40 between 1st January 2000 and now is eligible. Album tracks, live-only staples and other miscellaneous titbits are not.
2. No more that one song per artist (excluding collaborations).
3. Rather than just reflecting my own record collection (hey, who wants to read a list consisting of nothing but Slayer, The View and obscure Dutch Happy Hardcore?), the entries have been selected on the grounds that they either shaped or exemplified a trend in popular music at some point over the last decade. Which doesn't mean that I don't like them, it just means that I acknowledge their influence on pop culture over the last ten years. None of them should be obscure enough to make the average reader scratch their head in confusion - most were established hit singles upon release and the few that didn't become big mainstream hits were tunes that I thought should have been in a perfect world. Ideally, once we get far enough into the next decade for 'noughties nostalgia' to kick in (I'd predict about the second week of February 2010), these are the songs that I hope would be on the setlist for a noughties club night.
Hope all that makes sense. Let's get it started!
Sunday, December 06, 2009
Let’s kick things off with an admission that not all Reality TV pop is complete crap. If the artificial fame machine churned out a string of production line pop atrocities, the by-products weren’t always that bad : Hear’Say were outlasted by the infinitely superior Liberty X whose line-up was composed of the rejects from Popstars’ first series, and the sequel pitted two rival groups of girls and boys against each other in the run up to Xmas 2002 with the public using the singles chart as a means of deciding who was the better outfit. The winners’ debut not only secured the year’s Xmas #1 but also kickstarted a successful pop career that has yet to grind to a halt and produced some of the decade’s best singles.
Girls Aloud may have been conceived in the evil womb of Reality TV, but they managed to detach themselves from the concept fairly quickly – bypassing the variety performance ballad route taken by many of their solo contempories, the five-piece made their name in the kind of brash, colourful girlband pop that soundtracked the 1990s proving that teenypop could still work on the old model. Initial success granted them a string of hit singles and they soon came to dominate the pop market without reaching saturation point, which is probably the key to their longevity – even most of the big names in 90s teenypop struggled to make it past the three-album mark before everyone became whole-heartedly sick of them, and by the time the Spice Girls imploded in 2000 the gap between breakthrough success and calamitous fall from grace had narrowed even further. Where Girls Aloud succeeded was in their return to pop’s roots as good clean fun rather than a cynical marketing circus – they remained in the public eye for the rest of the decade, notching up cheery pop hits without ever getting in your face so much that you got sick of them. Rather than a post-2000 rehash of groups like All Saints and Eternal, they had more in common with their 80s predecessors such as Bananarama and Kim Wilde, artists who carved out careers at the forefront of pop for a full decade without ever slipping out of fashion. ‘Something Kinda Oooh!’ isn’t significantly better than any of their other releases, it’s just the first one that springs to my mind as an example of what they do well – check out this bombastic TV performance from Xmas 2007 if you need further explanation.
Whilst pop has changed hands over the course of the decade and undergone something of a rebirth since its low point at the start of the noughties, some constants remain and Girls Aloud are one of them. Girlband pop has endured where boybands have faltered – looking back at the girls’ original TV rivals, the hopelessly crappy One True Voice, it’s easy to see that the better side won. Whilst teenypop’s male contingent floundered in the early years of the decade only to resurface on a wave of 90s nostalgia later on, Girls Aloud along with their contempories the Sugababes have carved out admirably consistent careers of pop performance and left us with some cracking singles. Now that the decade’s nearly over, let’s give them the credit they deserve.
39. George Michael – Shoot the dog (#12 August 2002)
Every decade has its war, and previous ones have managed to carve out some decent protest songs to counteract all the bitterness and bloodshed. So it was disappointing that the war-mongering ways of our leaders in the early 2000s went largely unquestioned in pop music – there was nothing to rival Country Joe & the Fish’s denouncing of the Vietnam war in the late 60s or Bono’s emotive yarblings on the troubles in Northern Ireland….nobody seemed all that bothered. OK, Radiohead might have taken a half-arsed pot shot at Tony Blair on ‘You and whose army’ from ‘Amnesiac’ but you’re hardly laying your career on the line by whinging a bit about politics on an album track. It takes real balls to put out a single at the height of the conflict ripping on your country’s leader and his misguided toadying up to George W Bush, and surprisingly enough the only person to display sufficiently unfeasible gonad girth was someone hardly renowned for political protest.
George Michael’s star was on the wane in the early noughties, focused more on nostalgia for past glories in the aftermath of his immensely successful best-of in the late 90s than on what he could offer the new millennium. Musically he was stuck in limp R’n’B territory, but briefly broke free into calculated protest with ‘Shoot the Dog’ in 2002 – the track savagely criticized the master and servant relationship between Bush and Blair, backed by a 2DTV-produced cartoon video that ridiculed the hapless pair and poured scorn on the war effort. It was all too much for the flag-waving wankers on Fleet Street, with The Sun reacting particularly viciously to the star’s impertinence and lack of nationalist pride in Britain’s military intervention in the Middle East – their response to GM’s refusal to back our boys was to publish cheaply concocted photoshop images of his head disappearing down a toilet as his career crumbled in the fact of public outcry. Their smear campaign worked at least in the short term – the single fell short of the top ten, not a bad result but a proportional failure for someone with George’s pop pedigree and it triggered a general retreat from the pop charts for him which culminated in limiting future releases to internet-only download packages. Nevertheless, he returned with a couple more #1 hit albums and another best-of before the decade ended and retained his dignity throughout unlike the right-wing tabloid tosspots who tried to wreck his career for daring to disagree with them. ‘Shoot the Dog’ is more of a curiosity than a classic piece of pop, but it deserves its place on this list as one of the few real commercial risks of the decade and a testament to the power of pop music in challenging popular opinion. Nice one George.
38. Glasvegas – Daddy’s Gone (#12 August 2008)
Despite the fact that they looked and sounded like relics from Indie’s past, Glasvegas still sounded like a breath of fresh air when their debut landed in 2008 – against a backdrop of starry-eyed indie kids in tight jeans and ironic T-shirts, the band looked and sounded like grizzled veterans of the Glasgow indie scene of the late 80s, the perfect antidote to the excitable scamps clogging up the music press at the time. Their sound wasn’t anything radically new – the fuzzed-up guitar waves and black-clad dour delivery harked back to the Jesus & Mary Chain in their heyday, as did the band’s reverence for Phil Spector and 50s rock ‘n’ roll – but their sound stuck out like a sore thumb in the musical landscape of 2008, as did their morose choice of subject matter (social workers, racist attacks and Glasgow’s miserable sectarian bickering).
‘Daddy’s Gone’ preceded their impressive debut by several months and was picked up by the NME in late 2007 as one of their tracks of the year – it was easy to work out why on first hearing it, the track managing to craft a genuinely touching moment of pop tragedy on the thorny subject of absent fathers. It’s not easy to write a decent tearjerker without descending into schmaltz, and it’s even harder to put one into the upper reaches of the charts but the band managed it admirably – over a musical backdrop of Ronettes-style pop and thunderous reverb, singer James Allan bemoans the childhood realization that his dad has done a runner in a robust Glaswegian accent, packing in a hearty dose of bitterness and vitriol at the trail of destruction left in his wake. It was genuinely moving, bringing a tear to the eye of your emotionally-hardened scribe upon first listen and stands up to repeated plays as a finely balanced moment of pop sadness in the vein of ‘Every breath you take’ - it may not have matched Sting’s stalker anthem in terms of chart success but it set the stage nicely for their debut album to clean up both critically and commercially in 2008. They may have been guilty of laying it all on a bit thick in places, and reliable contacts of mine have remarked that they suck live, but Glasvegas still achieved the rare feat of cramming a universe of pent-up emotion into a four-minute hit single, one that will endure in the minds of many even if their star fades in future years.
37. Klaxons – Golden Skans (#7 January 2007)
Hit singles last the test of time, trends don’t – ill-advised haircuts and wardrobe decisions will have characterized the decade for many but they remain snapshots of what was in at the time and went out five minutes later. The whole ‘new rave’ movement was a classic example of this, another media launched trend that resulted in scenesters all over the nation covering themselves in ludicrous fluo and digging out their old Prodigy records. Many hopefuls laboured away at transforming the trend into a genuine crossover hit but few came close to Klaxons’ breakthrough success with ‘Golden Skans’ in early 2007.
In truth, there was nothing ravey about it – their cover of Kicks like a mule’s 1992 classic ‘The Bouncer’ would have been a better example of how dance music played through guitars could really hit home, but ‘Golden Skans’ was a safer bet for crash-landing the top ten. Built around a high-pitched vocal sample, the track detailed a night out back in the original rave era that the band were too young to have experienced first-hand – nevertheless, it struck a chord with indie kids everywhere and provided the soundtrack to many a night out for the new fluo-clad generation. NME creamed itself over the band’s pseudo-groundbreaking sound and named both the track and parent album ‘Myths of the near future’ as 2007’s best of the year – the album left me a little underwhelmed, leaving a lot of trendy pop fluff to pad out what was essentially a cluster of great singles of which ‘Golden Skans’ was probably the strongest. The cashing-in process was complete when the track turned up on a shampoo commercial earlier this year, leaving no doubt that the band had managed to pull a genuine hit out of what could have easily been nothing more than a passing fad in pop music. As the decade closes it’s still too early whether Klaxons and their 2007 contempories will be able to follow their original success with anything substantial but for the moment this track stands as one of the decade’s more palatable moments of trendiness transformed into accessible pop product.
36. System of a Down – Chop Suey ! (#17 August 2001)
This list is going to be filled with a predominantly poppy content due to its very nature – the selections have to not only be decent songs, they also need to have crossed over to a major audience in order for them to be considered. Heavy rock doesn’t feature particularly highly as it’s not best-suited to success in the singles charts, but there are a couple of notable exceptions where artists have managed to bag themselves an unconventional radio hit with something loud and skuzzy. One such example is Armenian-American heavy mentalists System of a Down’s breakthrough hit ‘Chop Suey!’ which thrust them into the unsuspecting confines of the UK top twenty in autumn 2001 and marked their passage from cult metal-circuit success to major force in international rock music, a field they would dominate in for the next few years.
The best thing about ‘Chop Suey!’ is the total randomness of it all – aside from the lack of any reference to the Chinese dish in the title, the track sounds like a Tasmanian Devil romping through a record store and chewing through various music styles over three frantic minutes of freeform mayhem. What starts off sounding like a ballad suddenly jackknifes into bulldozing metal bombast before breaking into rapid-fire stop/start noise bursts and vocals that go from operatic baritone to guttural brute force and 100 mph yelped diatribes. It was hard to work out what the fuck was going on upon first listen, but repeated spins left you in awe of one of the most bafflingly brutal slabs of heavy rock to make the charts since Rage Against the Machine first broke into the mainstream a decade earlier. The band would capitalize on its success in typical fashion – they followed the success of the single’s parent album ‘Toxicity’ with the gargantuan twinset of ‘Hypnotize/Mesmerize’ and the massive tour that accompanied it, then promptly disappeared from view completely. Many have striven to take their place at the creative forefront of heavy metal since then but none succeeded in marrying vicious delivery with accessible chart-friendly prowess in the same way that ‘Chop Suey!’ did back in 2001. This one stands as an example of how you can be loud, proud and crazy as fuck whilst still bagging yourself a hit single in the process. Result!
35. Sigur Ros – Hoppipolla (#24 May 2006)
There was a heavy weight of expectation on this decade to produce sonic marvels that had never been heard before, pieces of music so progressive and innovative that the human ear would not be able to handle them and would instead collapse in on itself out of sheer desperation. All of this was bollocks of course – apart from Radiohead basically alienating most of their original fanbase with a bit of guitar-free abstraction and people like the Aphex Twin carrying on doing what they had been doing for a while anyway, there wasn’t really any kind of post-millennial new form of music to usher in the new era.
We got close a couple of times though. The market for abstract, otherworldly rock music was growing as legions of listeners grew thoroughly bored with the trad rock ruling the airwaves at the time, and in the early years of the decade the more experimental factions of both indie and heavy metal drew away from recognizable song structures to favour something more ethereal and majestic. Metal gave us the mighty Isis, Cult of Luna and arguably later the much more commercially palatable Mastodon, but none were ever likely to batter the singles charts into submission – indie on the other hand has enjoyed a lucrative decade, bringing in a new generation of skinny Myspace-loving kiddies into the mix whilst retaining older fans who moved into the Observer/Radio 2 hinterland for those who felt a bit old at a Subways gig but still wanted to keep their finger on the pulse. The one band they all agreed on was Iceland’s Sigur Ros, a millennial variant on lo-fi, shoegazing and post-rock that modern indie fans embraced as their new favourite band that nobody else was supposed to know about. Their first album landed as the decade commenced and by midway through the noughties they had notched their first crossover hit with the twinkly end of the night classic ‘Hoppipolla’, a none-too-obvious choice for a single but one that seemed like it was always destined to be massive once it broke into the mainstream. Two separate chart runs saw the track peak at #24 in early 2006 but it was one of those whose chart longevity granted it classic status – and, in the vein of Moby’s ‘Play’ era material, it became even bigger thanks to numerous runs on adverts, film soundtracks and as the backing music to compilations of sporting moments, career highlights or anything that needed a bit of magic dust sprinkling over it to make it look majestic.
All this must have seemed odd for a bunch of Icelandic indie weaklings who didn’t even sing in a proper language (their material was delivered mainly in ‘Hopelandic’, presumably what Icelandic sounds like when spoken by toddlers before they actually learn to talk properly) and made zero effort to sell their records via press appearances and publicity campaigns. But then I suppose that’s what made them every indie boffin’s favourite band – you could whip out one of their CDs from amongst your collection of Coldplay and Badly Drawn Boy albums and attempt to impress your mates with it : ‘Hey, have you ever heard of these guys? They’re really unique and great and….oh wait, you’ve had their album for a year already? Shit!’. And they also had the added bonus of not being Swedish – if this had been made by a bunch of clever bugger blond cherubs from some Ikea-furnished treehouse outside Stockholm, I’d have hated it on sight but there’s something a lot cooler about the Icelandic that makes this much easier for me to like. Oooh don’t get me started on the fucking Swedes! Those BASTARDS. Maybe I’ll save that for another post – let’s just state for the record that Iceland rules and so do Sigur Ros.
34. Scooter – Ramp! (The Logical Song) (#2 June 2002)
Stop sniggering at the back. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of Scooter. Some of us fell for the Teutonic techno outfit’s charms back in the mid 90s around the time that gems such as ‘Move your Ass!’ were notching up moderate success in the singles charts, and it was always somewhat of a surprise that they didn’t reap greater rewards for their efforts in what was a fairly commercial field. But as always, the wheel carries on turning and those who persevere always end up rising to prominence at some point, which is what happened when the boys finally split the UK charts in two with ‘Ramp!’ in 2002 and kick started their most lucrative period in Britain.
Scooter’s bombastic style of ‘Stadium Techno’ is now so easy to recognize that they could adapt it to pretty much anything – Supertramp were first through the mangle, their ubiquitous ‘Logical Song’ given the Scooter treatment and transformed into a barrage of squeaky samples, cacophonous keyboard noises and incomprehensible gibberish barked over the whole thing by their hilarious MC HP Baxxter. The end product was wholeheartedly ridiculous yet very difficult to dislike and it was quite satisfying to see the British public finally embrace the band when ‘Ramp!’ launched a string of hit singles for the band in the early part of the decade. Their success also paved the way for a resurgent wave of clunky Euro-Rave in the shape of Basshunter, Cascada and a cluster of other acts who seized on the commercial potential of boisterous techno pop, a sound that had faded from fashion before Scooter revamped it with their breakthrough hit. And it wasn’t just a flash in the pan either – their best-of compilation coined it in and they even managed the impressive feat of knocking Madonna from the top of the album charts in 2008 when their ‘Jumping all over the world’ album gave them a surprise #1.
Now an almost inconceivable 15 years into their career, Scooter’s charms are as irresistible as ever – their unmistakable brand of ludicrous techno pillaging looks unlikely to go away as new generations of ravers, toddlers and embarrassed serious music fans fall prey to their undeniably enjoyable records. They’re not exactly Radiohead in terms of musical complexity, but sometimes you have to cast all that to one side and drive off in a huge rave bulldozer blasting out ‘Siberia! The place to be!’ at ear-splitting volume whilst a field full of nutters lose their shit raving to the nonsensical gibbering of a platinum blond German. What could be more logical than that?
33. The Automatic – Monster (#4 June 2006)
The line between addictively anthemic and horrendously irritating is a fine one, and staying on the right side of it depends on whether or not prolonged exposure to your biggest hit makes the public want to turn on you and beat you to death or not. The Automatic managed to stay just the right side of that line with ‘Monster’ in 2006, a track that proved so massively successful that it almost became their undoing – fortunately, it fell just short of passing into the realms of records that make you want to smash your radio into tiny pieces when you hear them and will instead go down as one of the decade’s most infectious singles.
The band emerged onto the fertile indie scene of the mid-noughties with a sound tailor made for the pop charts, a territory that had become newly accessible to guitar pop in a way that hadn’t been seen since the peak of Britpop ten years previously. Bands like The Kooks and Razorlight were making inroads into the upper reaches of the singles charts and challenging the most established pop acts for position at the very top of the chain – ‘Monster’ landed at the right time for a young band like the Automatic to decimate the mainstream with their debut single, and it soon became so unavoidable that even the band’s critics had to admit that they had penned a classic. Some indie bands looked on scornfully at the band’s commercial delivery, but they seemed largely unaffected by any negative press and capitalized on their success with a hit album and a string of high-profile TV appearances – but it was the song rather than the band that stuck in people’s minds and became so widely reappropriated that you heard it everywhere from football games to nightclubs to festivals and anywhere in between. Rumour has it that the song was even taken up by inmates to welcome sex offenders into prison at the height of its popularity. Now there’s notoriety for you.
Inevitably, they couldn’t follow it up with anything quite as successful and the band have faded from the limelight since their 2006 heyday although they are still touring and releasing records – some will saddle them with the tag of one-hit wonders, but in truth there’s nothing negative about the way they managed to conquer the mainstream so easily. ‘Monster’ remains four of the decade’s most infectious minutes and will live on in parodies, reproductions and compilation appearances for years to come. In the end, the beast they created fell some way short of destroying them – its status as a classic is assured.
32. The Ting Tings – That’s not my name (#1 May 2008)
Pop took on various new forms over the course of the last decade, and many of them saw it stepping away from big studio production and back towards making music in your bedroom. The original peaks of punk and rave both saw newer, more immediate channels to success opened up to generations of kids who didn’t have years of classical training behind them but did have some basic ingredients and a couple of good ideas – fast forward to the present day and we have a similar situation where thanks to internet publicity and easily accessible technology, you can fling out a #1 single in about five minutes if you put your mind to it.
The Ting Tings emerged seemingly from nowhere in 2008 with their addictive debut single ‘That’s not my name’, five minutes of squawked vocals, thumping drumbeats and rhythmic sampling that stuck in your head as soon as you heard it for the first time. Hyped up as one of the next big things that year along with a cluster of other hopefuls, they were the only ones to coin in with a genuine hit – the immediacy of their debut gave rise to the image of a fresh art school music project who had hit the big time, rather than a calculated studio affair (which was in fact a misconception – drummer Jules de Martino had been on the music scene since the mid 80s whilst singer Katie White previously supported Steps and Atomic Kitten in failed girlband TKO). Whatever the reality behind it, ‘That’s not my name’ showcased a duo with enough understanding of what works in pop to crank out hits in their sleep – parent album ‘We Started Nothing’ (another chart topper) contained ten potential hits and no filler, and success on the global pop market soon followed.
Some scoffed at the über trendy gimmickry of it all and you had to concede that the group were not going to be palatable to fans of the mainstream rock spectacle, but they proved their doubters wrong with a string of strong festival appearances and equally faultless follow-up singles, establishing themselves as one of pop’s heavy hitters as the decade closes. The best example of crafting a #1 out of nothing since White Town’s ‘Your Woman’ in the late 90s, ‘That’s not my name’ not only brought in quick returns in the singles charts but also set the group up as one to watch in future years.
31. Just Jack – Starz in their eyes (#2 January 2007)
You can hack away at crafting a hit single for years without ever hitting the target - most success boils down to either plain luck or hitting on an idea which leaves your rivals scratching their heads and wondering why they didn’t think of it first. Step forward Jack Allsop, aka Just Jack, a British hip hop artist who had been labouring inoffensively for several years until an appearance on Joolz Holland in 2007 launched him into the public sphere with a hit single that nailed the decade’s most prominent musical trend with a bit of savage analysis.
‘Stars in their eyes’ bit back at the rise of Reality TV which by its release in early 2007 had already dominated the media for the best part of a decade and was beginning to get a bit tiresome – as I’ve pointed out in other articles in this series, the TV phenomenon had also spilled into the singles charts which had suffered five years’ domination by the Pop Idol/X-Factor stable acts by the time Just Jack popped up and beat them at their own game. The track ripped into the artifice of taking glorified karaoke singers and mass-marketing them to the point of total saturation, leaving behind nothing but a trail of half-baked C-list celebrities and shitty records – sure, we were all thinking it but it took someone to actually knock together a hit single saying it. Allsop may have been one of the numerous middle class white kids trying to craft a convincing cockney accent to conjure up some previously non-existent street cred, but his delivery was smooth enough for us to overlook the Dick Van Dyke impersonation – ‘Stars in their eyes’ harked back to the nice guy hip hop of Jurassic Five and their ilk, the sort of people who you wish would breakthrough and put twerps like 50 Cent in their place but never seem to succeed. Follow up releases failed to match its popularity but ‘Starz’ remains one of the decade’s more likeable hit singles and one whose appeal will endure a lot longer than that of the Reality show muppets it derides.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
What used to be a genuinely interesting contest over who would grab the prestigious mantle of Xmas #1 has long since descended into a dull one horse race dominated by the X-Factor’s build up over the weeks approaching the festive season leaving little doubt that the winner of that musical popularity contest will also walk away with the top slot in the Xmas charts. And if we’re being completely honest, even before reality telly took over the battle for the festive charts there was little in the way of interesting competition for the top slot, inevitably another notch on the chart bedpost of teenypop acts like Westlife or the Spice Girls or some ghastly toddler-friendly novelty record like Bob the Builder.
2003 stands out as the only year any of this would change, with the reality TV franchise cobbling together a weak cover of John Lennon’s ‘War is over’ only to finish third to a gripping face-off between two half-decent bids for the treasured festive top seller. The winner of the duel was the Donnie Darko-inspired remake of Tears for Fears’ ‘Mad World’ (more on that later) but the more vigorously festive of the two records was undoubtedly The Darkness’ barnstorming glam rock masterpiece ‘Christmas Time – Don’t let the bells end’. Reaching the end of 2003 on a massive high after a string of successful singles and a breakthrough debut album, the boys had made their name in the business of loud retro rock anthems and schoolboy humour, a style they would arguably showcase to greatest effect on their Xmas effort, a stadium-sized rock show closer packed with Finbarr Saunders style puns (‘Don’t let the bells end….just let them ring in peace’). It seized on the inherent silliness of the British Xmas experience and drew on the past classics of the 1970s where glam rock heavyweights duked it out for the top slot, giving a new generation another festive classic to indulge in bouts of drunken air guitar to at the office party for years to come.
Coining a Xmas classic is often confirmation of your ascension to pop royalty, yet for The Darkness conquering the festive charts would be the turning point in their career as the public began to get tired of the whole joke metal thing – they bagged one more hit from the first record before embarking on their troubled second album which, although not actually all that bad, met with critical savagery upon release and fell some way short of replicating the success of their debut. Nevertheless, Xmas compilations still honour their biggest moment and they can rest easy in the knowledge that Justin Hawkins’ rehab bills and hair transplants will surely be covered for years to come with royalties from this festive favourite.
29. My Chemical Romance - Welcome to the Black Parade (#1 October 2006)
Certain #1 hits surprise audiences, presenting us with proof that sometimes the most unlikely songs tap into the public mindset and become best-sellers. Others are so obviously written to become chart-toppers that it would seem a monumental under-achievement to even see them come in at number two, and ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ belongs firmly in this category. A pompous, overblown broadway-style set piece created to usher in their third album, the single took the band from Kerrang-approved Goth Rock middleweights right to the top of the pop charts and made them into one of the biggest acts in mainstream rock for a while, turned singer Gerard Way into a genuine celebrity and pissed off most heavy metal fans so much that they became hate figures for the scene they were supposed to represent.
Crossing over from scene success to genuine mainstream fame takes a number of things, namely an accessible radio hit that draws in new audiences amongst kids who’ve never heard your music before whilst retaining enough of your original appeal to not alienate your more longstanding admirers. It also helps if you have a nice MTV friendly video and a look that chimes in with movements in pop culture – MCR had risen to prominence as standard goth rockers coated in eyeliner and black hair dye, but they revamped their image slightly in the run-up to their third album and presented their new look to the crowds at Reading 2006. The crowd turned on them violently, pelting them with bottles and slagging their poppier new direction, but behind the scenes they had put together a commercial package that would make it all worthwhile – ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ landed at the end of festival season and shot straight to the top slot. Just as The Offspring’s ‘Pretty Fly for a White Guy’ had thrust its creators into the mainstream after years of singles chart invisibility with a sanitized version of the music that made them famous and made pop punk a lucrative sales device, ‘Black Parade’ marked the point where the whole Hot Topic Emo Vampire thing became officially mainstream and therefore not cool anymore unless you were about 12. The press started freaking out that teenagers were now being drawn into some kind of sinister vampire suicide cult and suddenly you couldn’t sell anything to teenage girls unless it featured black hair, fake blood and cartoon goth imagery. The band soldiered on regardless and, if I’m being totally honest, actually managed to knock out a few decent singles in their new Broadway Emo style – punk purists sneered at them, but for my money MCR are easier to deal with as a massive mainstream rock spectacle than they were as just another vaguely ambitious goth rock troupe prior to the single’s success. At least when you’ve had a #1 single you don’t have to justify whether your new direction is working or not. Let the bottle throwers do their thing, MCR proved their point with this record and walked away as winners.
28. So Solid Crew - 21 Seconds (#1 August 2001)
Eek ! Scary gun-toting cockney oiks top the singles charts! Head for the hills tabloid journalists and prepare your fear-mongering articles about how it’s no longer safe to leave the house! These days almost a decade later, the whole UK Garage thing looks a little ridiculous and most of its leading lights have long since faded into obscurity but it’s worth remembering how big and threatening it all was back in 2001 when bad boy posturing, copycat American gangster rap and 2-step breaks ruled the airwaves.
‘Grime’ as a musical concept had an air of the ridiculous about it, but back in the early noughties there wasn’t much else going on in dance music to write home about and it was genuinely quite exciting to have something distinctly British dominating radio at the time – and where the music journalists left off, the tabloid press eagerly picked up the baton and spewed forth endless column inches panicking about the nefarious influence was having on the country’s youth. OK, So Solid were perhaps not the best role models for kiddie Britain – the posturing in their videos was not just a front and the distinctly unpleasant activities of many of the members soon stole the limelight from their music – but up against the distinctly inoffensive likes of Craig David, Artful Dodger and that excruciating ‘Do you really like it?’ record, ’21 Seconds’ stands out as the strongest single of the movement. Based around the principle that none of the featured rappers would get more than the title’s time slot to leave their mark on the track, it sounded like the equivalent of eight twokkers trying to chat up the same girl in a loud nightclub – none of them were particularly skilled lyricists and most of the content consisted of wholesale pilfering from the likes of infinitely superior Yank rap acts like the Wu Tang Clan. Yet for all its faults, the single was a memorable moment in chart history and one of the few examples of an original idea translating into massive chart success.
The Crew didn’t stay at the top of pop’s pecking order for long, due to various reasons including the fact that they never seemed to be able to decide how many people were in the band and the obvious drawback that those who were designated members seemed to spend more time in jail than onstage. Nearly ten years down the line, ’21 Seconds’ sounds as daft today as 2 Unlimited did at the end of the 90s but we should remember them for the force in pop they briefly were back in 2001 – the British record industry was thrown off balance for a short while in the face of this lot, and it’s good to shake the lazy buggers up once in a while.
27. The Gossip – Standing in the way of control (#7 April 2007)
The media was maybe getting hungry for another style icon in the mid-noughties – the airwaves and magazine pages were full of skinny little indie boys twanging guitars and penning odes to their mundane everyday existence. It was probably time for a sea-change, and what better way than to pluck the physical embodiment of the polar opposite to malnourished male indie adolescence and thrust it straight onto magazine covers?
Another NME staple, fronted by the lady voted ‘coolest person in rock 2007’ by scribes of the aforementioned indie rag/lifestyle guide, The Gossip made their presence felt via this particularly head-turning rock’n’soul moment in late 2006 – the track rose slowly to prominence, making a gradual ascent towards the top ten the way records used to back in the good old days before peaking at #7 in early 2007. Tapping into the nightclub friendly disco indie popular at the time, the band stood out for a number of reasons but the most obvious one was that their vocalist was HUGE – Beth Ditto, a product of trailer trash America looking like the lovechild of Roseanne Barr and Pavarotti, got people’s attention straight away with her larger-than-life stage persona and devastating vocals. However, it wasn’t just a gimmick – let’s not forget that one of the inherent advantages of being stacked like a sumo wrestler is that you can pump out vocals that the skinny girls can only dream of matching – Aretha Franklin, Jocelyne Brown, The Weathergirls, fat chicks have always had a place in pop as they’re the only ones whose physique allows them to spill drinks at the back bar with their voices. Ditto’s trademark yowl backed with the track’s pummeling indie disco production made it an instant dancefloor classic and a gateway to the charts for the group – though it outstripped their other singles by a long way, The Gossip are in no danger of fading off the back of one successful single as their more recent output and bitchslap brutal live show have proven.
Media sleazebags may have made a great deal about how awfully progressive they were being by promoting Beth as a style icon despite her noteworthy girth, but it all would have been totally token if she didn’t have the tunes to back it up with – and thankfully, she did! No Rik Waller this one! And if the by-product was that magazines decided to ditch the boney bitches for a while in favour of ladycurves then so much the better – The Gossip became your girlfriend’s favourite band overnight because she could bust one out on the dancefloor to their music and then go home and feel comparatively slim looking at the CD cover. Everyone’s a winner!
26. The Killers - Mr Brightside (#9 September 2004)
Indie has historically been the refuge of those cast out from the mainstream due to their reluctance to compromise artistically in favour of musical sincerity and sticking to their vision. This is all very well if you’re a bunch of Wakefield holier-than-thou types like The Cribs (don’t get me wrong, they did some good singles too but none of them made this list) but when you’re a mormon cabaret act from Las Vegas it doesn’t really cut it spending years doing the upstairs at the pub circuit when your music is tailor made for gargantuan stadium venues and moments of indie disco ephiphany where entire dancefloors bellow your lyrics out at the top of their voices, eyes shut and fists raised like participants in some religious cult with snakebite spilled down their T-shirts.
That The Killers were aiming for the stars from the very beginning is hardly surprising. That they succeeded in reaching them is what’s impressive – even the indie luminaries of the early 2000s (Strokes, White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand) pitched their product at the NME set of punters, and though their records sold in massive quantities they still failed to bring in the sort of not-too-bothered-with-music types who were buying Lightning Seeds albums in the 90s. This is where the Vegas boys, and ‘Mr Brightside’ in particular, came in – despite the fact that their keyboard-propelled Hollywood indie seemed rooted in a land far, far away and lacked the kitchen-sink realism that virtually everyone in British indie was trying to cram into their material, The Killers were the sort of immense proposition that became accessible to pretty much everybody whether or not they were Match of the Day slobs or pretentious indie hipsters. ‘Mr Brightside’ was their breakthrough success and took over the mantle from James’ ‘Laid’ as the kind of record that could ignite indie club dancefloors despite being more of a mainstream chart hit than anything else. Impressively, it was far from the only solid gold pop hit on their debut album ‘Hot Fuss’ – they bagged another two massive hits and even managed to lodge album track ‘All these things that I’ve done’ into public consciousness (it even returned to the charts this year as a charity ensemble effort, surely proof that they’ve entered pop royalty).
‘Mr Brightside’ isn’t the band’s only great moment – like many entries on this list, it was simply the first of their singles to cross over into the mainstream and many others since then have done the same. As the decade closes they remain one of the nation’s best-loved groups, still able to rope in serious indie audiences and Tesco music section plebs whilst their music stays just the right side of pompous and ridiculous. If we ever get a ‘Life on Mars’ style TV series set back in the noughties several decades down the line, you can bet that one of their songs will be playing in the background whilst proto-mulleted youngsters lounge around playing Sudoku on their I-phones. The soundtrack to an era? Probably.
25. Michael Andrews & Gary Jules - Mad World (#1 December 2003)
Pop music is at its most satisfying when something truly unique and unexpected rises to the top of the charts just because it strikes a chord with the public. Nobody would have bet on a minimalist rehash of Tears for Fears’ 80s classic ‘Mad World’ becoming a massive success over the festive period in 2003, and for that matter I don’t think most people expected Donnie Darko, the film whose soundtrack provided the track to make much of an impact either. Just goes to show that we need to sit back and let nature take its course sometimes, letting film and music make their waves with the general public without interfering too much with them and surveying the results afterwards.
Culled from the same Xmas chart campaign as The Darkness’ marvelous ‘Christmas Time (Don’t let the bells end’), ‘Mad World’ actually pipped the glam rockers to the top slot and romped home to massive sales in the lucrative festive singles market. It seemed an odd choice for Xmas #1, a bit of a morose number for what is usually a fairly jaunty time of year – however, take Xmas out of the season and you’re left with the bleak mid-winter, a period where folks like to curl up in the warmth and chill out to something peaceful. The unlikely 80s cover tapped into that mindset perfectly – one of the reasons 80s chart hits have been such popular choices for cover versions since their first spell in the top 40 is that a lot of the originals were so marked by the production of the time that a modern rehash can turn them into totally different tunes – the new version of ‘Mad World’ stripped the track back to its bare bones and brought out a hitherto unseen element of sensitivity and reflection at the heart of the song, putting this at the fore over a stirring piano backing to pretty powerful effect. The subject matter of madness at the heart of society chimed in with the film’s own theme, one that many audiences completely misunderstood when they saw it – and I’m glad they did, it’s nice to have to dig for meaning a little rather than to be slapped round the face with ‘message movies’ just to make sure you weren’t asleep during the key moments. The mates who watched the film with me spent most of it cackling at the giant bunny rabbit and thought the whole thing was a waste of time but it struck a chord with me and has stood up to repeated viewings – ‘Mad World’ works for the same reasons, it’s not an obvious choice for a festive hit but it stands out as one of the only truly memorable Xmas hits of the decade and one that it would have been hard to predict even weeks before it landed. Try imagining that when you’re watching X-Factor’s blanket TV coverage in mid-November and see how exciting the whole thing feels in comparison.
24. The View - Same Jeans (#3 January 2007)
If I were compiling this list based purely on personal preference and filling it with the tracks that crop up on my I-Pod most frequently, this would be top by several country miles. Not exactly the most original indie anthem from the fertile post-Arctic Monkeys period of 2006/07, ‘Same Jeans’ was derided by purists for nicking the chord structure from Cornershop’s ‘Brimful of Asha’ – whether it did or not is irrelevant of course, a good riff is a good riff, it’s what you wrap it in that determines whether or not the song is going to be a hit. Which ‘Same Jeans’ was, shooting to #3 in early 2007 to complete a trilogy of fantastic singles from the young Dundonians and paving the way for their debut album ‘Hats off to the buskers’ to top the charts a couple of weeks later.
Performers over the course of the decade have made a lot of their supposed origins, laying on exaggerated versions of their own actions to lend their music a gritty, real quality and provide a sense of location to what could otherwise be empty, vapid sentiment. The View may have let their distinctly Scottish twang seep into their music but there was nothing forced about it – their debut album focused almost exclusively on stuff that happened on the Dundee estate in which they grew up, yet there was none of the kitchen-sink melodrama you’d expect from such subject matter, rather a glorious collection of pop songs and nuggets of everyday life for the boys. ‘Same Jeans’ picks a snapshot of personal philosophy amidst all that, extolling the glories of being an essentially scruffy bugger and staying true to yourself, saluting buskers for their tenacity in the face of grim reality and generally reveling in the moment at hand. It was as life-affirming as it was deceptively simple, all topped off with a ‘Paradise City’ style wig-out tagged on the end to pump up concert audiences to a state of delirium. And, as I have pointed out elsewhere on this blog, it remains the only top three hit ever to feature the word ‘c*nt’ (listen to the second chorus – that’s Scotland for you). Despite flinging out what to my mind was a brilliant second album earlier this year with several potential smash hits on it, the band have faded from view (no pun intended) since their meteoric rise with this single but I wouldn’t bet on them staying away from the charts for too long. In the meantime, this slice of Caledonian rag-tag indie rock remains one of the most ‘barry’ moments of the noughties.
23. Lily Allen - Smile (#1 July 2006)
The decade would have been considerably duller without Lily, a fine example of British womanhood who showed the world why our females are so great – she’s a good laugh, she likes to party and she doesn’t take any crap from people. Another star to seemingly emerge from nowhere with a smash hit single, ‘Smile’ launched her into the charts in 2006 where she has managed to stay since then without losing the cheeky appeal that made her stand out from the pack in the first place.
Having spent most of her childhood getting kicked out of public schools for drinking and smoking, the singles charts seemed to be a natural outlet for Lily’s bratty persona and ‘Smile’ gave her the perfect vehicle to take her there. A four minute paen a dead relationship where her estranged lover seeks to reconcile with her, she takes great pleasure in rebuffing his miserable arse and rubbing his nose in it – such subject matter in the mouth of an American R’n’B diva would have seemed unnecessarily bitchy, but Lily managed to make the whole thing quite endearing and it brought her cheeky personality into the limelight for the first time. Future releases have only built on this, even making a minor celebrity out of her younger brother Alfie thanks to her ode to him staying in his bedroom all day smoking dope and wanking. Her brash, colourful debut ‘Alright Still’ featured an impressive roster of similar jabs at life around her, backed up by an online blog on which she seemed to take potshots at virtually everybody – her most popular target remains Girls Aloud’s Cheryl Cole, darling of the media but an obvious hate figure for a generation of young women for whom she’s just too bloody pretty. I quite like Cheryl Cole and there’s even a Girls Aloud tune in this countdown, but I’m still glad that ladies from both ends of the spectrum get to co-exist in pop music – Lily, at least when she first arrived on the market, broke the mould from what was expected from female performers and surprised many by becoming a sex symbol despite being obnoxious, lairy and not exactly skeletal. She’s lost a bit of podge since then (boo!) but she’s retained the status of the sort of bird you could go for a pint with and still take home at the end of the night. Good girlfriend material overall, although as more than one person has pointed out you’d have to be careful if you ever dated here – one false move and you’d find yourself the subject matter of a song on her next album where she goes into great detail about how crap you were in bed. Maybe best leave her to songwriting then, and ‘Smile’ remains the finest slice of gobby chart bothering of the last few years. Without Lily, the charts would be a much more boring place.
22. Sean Paul - Like Glue (#3 July 2003)
Reggae is one of the few chart trends that never truly goes out of fashion, it just comes around again and again. Roughly once every ten years to be exact : Bob Marley’s first ascent into the European charts dates back to the early 70s, the wave of Jamaican influenced British Ska laid waste to the UK charts in the early 80s with The Specials, Bad Manners et al and back in 1993 you couldn’t move for Shaggy, Shabba Ranks and co at the upper end of the charts. Back in 2003, it was the turn of a Jamaican former water polo player to pick up the baton and stamp his mark all over the global pop music scene.
You literally couldn’t escape Sean Paul when his commercial breakthrough album ‘Dutty Rock’ landed in 2002 – it gave him four massive hits in his own right and also provided him with lucrative guest vocal slots with Beyoncé and Blu Cantrell, clocking up half a dozen global smashes in barely twelve months. As with most Jamaican musicians, it’s the delivery that does it and Paul’s pop-ragga intonation struck a chord with worldwide audiences to the point where it seemed he could read out the contents of his tax return in thick Jamaican brogue and it would probably go top ten. ‘Like Glue’ is the third of his hits from 2003, landing in the middle of summer to provide the soundtrack of many a bump’n’grind dancefloor session and bringing in outside audiences to an extent not seen since Shabba’s infamous ‘Mr Loverman’ and Reel 2 Real’s equally inescapable ‘I like to move it’ ten years previously. Even if you didn’t like ragga, it was hard not to have a bit of hip wiggle to this one.
The success of ‘Dutty Rock’ and its faultless run of singles was always going to be tough to repeat, although he did have a decent go with 2005’s ‘The Trinity’ which provided the infectious ‘We be burnin’ and US Chart Topper ‘Temperature’, but by then his status as the man to turn your song into a hit had been usurped by the likes of Timbaland and Kanye West. As talented as those two are, they haven’t given us anything that can plaster a silly grin over you face like Sean Paul’s chart-friendly Jamaican pop, and ‘Like Glue’ remains one of those tracks you can whack on at a party and get everyone winding and grinding in unison.
There’s a key moment at the end of one of my favourite films of the decade, ‘There Will Be Blood’, where Daniel Day Lewis’ terrying incarnation Daniel Plainview turns on his nemesis Eli Sunday and works himself up into a fit of murderous rage as he details how he has already drained his rival’s oilfields. The metaphorical use of the milkshake has never been quite so powerful – that is, not since Kelis rolled it out for her signature tune in 2004 and sent booties across the globe into a state of uncontrolled shakyness, leaving carnage in its wake and providing us with one of the most infectious records of the decade.
‘Milkshake’ is one of those annoying records that I had to include on this list despite not really being able to describe why I like it so much. It’s just fucking cool. I don’t even know what exactly she is referring to as her ‘milkshake’ (although I have my suspicions that it might be quite rude) but it sounds really quite alluring and in any case she is quite insistent on the fact that her milkshake is infinitely better than mine ever could be, so much so that a full explanation on why this is would be the subject of a fee-bearing service. The nerve of this lady! Anyway, using a fast food pun with such panache deserves no small amount of credit – imagine a male R’n’B artist like R.Kelly attempting acts of seduction with his ‘Flame-Grilled Whopper’ and the results would certainly not be the same. Having already established herself as a force in pop with the cathartic masterpiece ‘Caught out there’ (you know, the one where she yells ‘I hate you so much right now! AAAARRGH!’ over a funky beat) and her groovetastic collaboration with the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard on ‘Got your money’, ‘Milkshake’ heralded an unstoppable run of three top three hits in 2004 and made her into one of pop’s biggest treasures. Like Jamelia’s utterly fanastic ‘Superstar’, which I nearly included on this list but elected to leave out in place of Sigur Ros at the last minute for the sake of diversity, ‘Milkshake’ is one of those instances in pop where the ingredients just seem to gel perfectly – R’n’B as a genre can be a bit hit and miss, but those rare moments where you chuck the right combination of elements into the mixer and whisk yourself up a classic single are satisfying in a way other styles cannot match. This was one of them, and should be treasured as such. And for the record I would gladly take up the opportunity to partake in some milkshake with Kelis, or indeed any other beverage of her choosing. No please Ma’am, put your wallet away, it’s my treat. Shall I call us a taxi?
Monday, November 16, 2009
One thing the last decade has lacked has been a bit of decent Europop. After the 90s provided us with an absolute deluge of cheesy yet loveable Eurodance in the shape of 2 Unlimited, Aqua et al, the noughties have been a barren land for all that is goonish, continental and generally ridiculous. The genre has been revived slightly towards the end of the decade with the rise of acts like Cascada but even they seem to fling out more crappy cover versions rather than original material. The one bresh of fresh Euro air came in 2004 from the most unlikely of places and went on to utterly dominate the European charts in the way that only the massive Eurodance hits of the previous decade could have managed.
Moldovan pop trio O-Zone had notched up success in Eastern Europe in the decade’s early years but they were understandably invisible anywhere further West due mostly to the fact that their songs were all in Romanian – however, their style of brash bouncy Europop coupled with flambouyant videos and metrosexual pop attire endeared them to many and their hopes of notching a truly international hit were realised when ‘Dragostea Din Tei’ hit airwaves in 2003. The track, a ludicrous Euro dance club hit whose lyrics read more like a folk song than a pop hit (the title translates as something along the lines of ‘Love under the linden trees’), was one of those tunes that tapped into the collective light-heartedness of every European territory – including the UK where it reached #3, a virtually unheard of feat for a non-English language record. The track, backed by a decidedly silly video featuring the three band members dancing on the wing of a plane, reached the top of the charts in virtually every European country – the only exceptions were Italy and Sweden, where imitation versions were rush-released to beat the group to the domestic charts. We hadn’t seen this since the halcyon days of Whigfield and KWS in the 90s, where summer dance tracks swept the continent so quickly that record companies could hardly keep up with things and multiple versions of the songs would jostle for position on the charts of every country. Viral video versions of the track swept the States whilst a Spanish parody version conquered the South American market, and for a while it seemed like you would have to try pretty hard to find anywhere on planet Earth where the song wasn’t a hit single.
‘Dragostea Din Tei’ is hardly the most well-crafted song on this list, but I decided to include it as a novelty as it’s one of the hits from the last decade that nobody really saw coming. Having the entire planet bounce around to the same (admittedly not very good) tune gave us all a brief sense of unity under the same banner of cheesy pop music. For a short period it felt like you could stop wars with this tune, and although it will doubtless go down as one of the cheesiest tracks of the era I would rather pick it out as an example of how penning a catchy hit can catapult you to the top of every chart on the planet if you pitch it right. Moldova’s best export since……erm….well…..
immediate pop hits, and also gave a slightly confusing nod towards the emergent trend of ectsasy use in Hip Hop circles. Whether drugs had any role in the creation of 'Get Ur Freak On' is besides the point though - you wouldn't need to be chemically refreshed to become seized with the irrepressible urge to boogie to this, it was practically impossible to sit still when it came on the radio. Still sounding fresh nearly ten years down the line, the track laid things out for a decade of pop princesses à la Beyoncé, Kelis, Rhianna and countless others to come along and clean up with super-production R'n'B megahits - whilst they produced some undeniably great moments, few could rival Missy's breakthrough success in terms of sheer originality and unorthodox appeal. Classic pop for the noughties, this one will run and run.
We’ve been a wee bit short-changed for dance music since the turn of the millennium – compare the myraid trends and shifts over the course of the 1990s to the feeble attempts at crafting something new in the post 2000 landscape and you have to admit that there’s not really anything on a par with breakbeat, jungle or trip-hop. However, that didn’t stop people trying and there were a couple of bubbles of fresh air in there – UK Garage, New Rave and the neon beast that briefly threatened to devour the charts in the early 2000s : Electroclash.
There wasn’t really anything particularly complicated about Electroclash, it was just another shift in club culture that allowed dance music to gravitate towards festival stages and mingle with the big name rock acts. Acts such as The Rapture and Chicks on Speed succeeded in filling hipster playlists with their take on the formula, but it was Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner who set their sights on Rolling Stones-sized venues with their new band of stadium electro. ‘Emerge’ was their mission statement, a slow building club thumper that gradually whipped up into an absolute frenzy. Although their confrontational interviews took place largely in the rock press, the tunes were 100% suited to the dancefloor – unlike the later New Rave explosion, the best parts of electroclash could work in any club across the world without relying on the hipster contingent on the dancefloor to get things started. Immediate, ambitious and self-consciouly massive, the track should have been #1 across the entire planet but in the end just stalled in the mid 20s and disappeared soon afterwards. Consider this one of the decade’s great injustices – for once we had a track set to split the mainstream in two like the best rave classics of yester year but it missed the moment for some reason. Like Andrew WK’s awesome ‘Party Hard’, the tune pinpointed a moment in time and whilst it wasn’t an anthem to millions, it became a party staple for the privileged few. A tinge of nostalgia creeps over me when I think of nights out spiraling out of control to this one – as the soundtrack to a nightclub boiling over into total neo-rave frenzy, there was nothing better suited.
There’s about a zillion quizzes on Facebook asking you to name celebrities based on photos of them from back before they were famous, culled from high school yearbooks or childhood sports team photos. I haven’t checked out whether Kaiser Chiefs are in there yet, but chances are I’d be able to pick out at least a couple of them quicker than I did when I saw them on the cover of the NME on a plane back from Dublin – hungover and slightly confused, I had to flip backwards and forwards between the band interview and the cover photo before it eventually dawned on me : ‘Holy Crap! That’s Ricky fucking Wilson!!’.
Which, ironically, was exactly what he was hoping would happen in the interview inside – a frustrated pop star who’d been treading water for years as front man to the thoroughly unremarkable Runston Parva, Wilson and his cronies underwent an image re-tuning in the mid 2000s and re-emerged as an out-and-out pop group and set to work chronicling their everyday lives in Leeds on their debut album ‘Employment’. ‘I predict a riot’ was one of four incredible singles culled from the record and is arguably the most recognizable, a bombastic pop headrush detailing a night out in central Leeds in impressively witty fashion – sure, it was in vogue at the time to make your lyrics as familiar as possible to young British audiences but nobody did it in quite as clever a fashion as Wilson with couplets like ‘I tried to get to my taxi/A man in a tracksuit attacked me’. You didn’t need to have spent your formative years against the backdrop he was singing about to get the joke, and thousands did as the album sold by the truckload and the singles ruled the airwaves for what seemed like forever.
Wit is a valuable commodity in pop music – not everyone has it, Alex Turner has certainly retained it and Ricky Wilson may have seen his contributions reap lesser returns as the decade has progressed but he will still be remembered as one of the era’s cheekier raconteurs. ‘I predict a riot’ still gets a dancefloor going to this day and remains a timely reminder of that point in the middle of the decade where it seemed the British indie kids that had been struggling to gain recognition for years all suddenly got their dues at the same time. The subject matter may have been a less than glowing image of modern Britain, but the musical output was a great example of the kind of thing us Brits can be fiercely proud of.
A passing fad to the cynics out there, for his followers Andrew WK was a hairy bolt of energy into an indie scene too wrapped up in itself to just knuckle down to some serious rocking for a change. Once The Strokes had broken through to the mainstream, the NME had acts queuing up at the door begging for a spot on the cover as the next big thing – Andrew WK was one of the first in line and duly bagged his space on a double fold out cover in late 2001 under the banner ‘so good we have to put him on the cover twice!’ and the hype machine was in motion.
None of this would have mattered if he didn’t have the tunes to back it up, but one spin of his unspeakably fantastic debut single silenced all doubters – ok, maybe not all of them but anyone trying to voice criticism over the deafening wall of guitars that ushered in ‘Party Hard’ would have had a job making themselves heard. Seeing him perform the track live brought home exactly how simple the whole thing was – three enormous guitarists all playing the same riff, bass and drums straight off the death metal circuit (tubthumper Donald Tardy previously warmed the drumstool in Florida DM legends Obituary), plinky plonky piano lines and vocals that sounded like a werewolf coaching a rugby team, the track was the most thrilling three minutes in years and duly sent nightclub dancefloors into sweaty delirium every time it was played. I can’t describe how much I loved this record when I first heard it, and I still stick it on fairly regularly when I’m on my way to work half awake. Parent album ‘I get wet’ (featuring an infamous cover shot of WK bloodied from the nose down after a stage-diving mishap) was full of more of the same and Andrew briefly became the new face of fun for the indie renaissance of 2001.
Many didn’t get the joke of course (tour mates The Coral derided WK as a ‘sweaty fucking gimp’ during their nationwide jaunt the following year) and the chart performance of ‘Party Hard’ (an impressive yet still slightly underwhelming #19) contributed to his swift categorization as a one-hit wonder. It was never going to be career-building stuff, but this list is all about moments that have marked the decade and for me, ‘Party Hard’ sticks out like the memory of a particularly good night out. Loud, brash and thoroughly irresponsible, it’s still the quickest way to put a smile on my face after all these years.
The musical landscape of the decade hasn’t been marked by a wave of never-heard-before trends like those seen in previous eras – much of what has topped the listings over the last ten years has been stuff that those of us who’ve been around a while have heard before plenty of times. The thing is, we’re probably not the ones out there buying the records – as has always been the case, the people deciding what gets into the singles charts are ‘the kids’, and they have pretty short memories. Plus, they don’t spend ages analyzing what are essentially floor-filling, crowd-pleasing mass appeal anthems trying to find some hidden meaning – they’re too busy out there having a good time to care whether the soundtrack has been around before.
I’m maybe being a little hard on Kasabian here – they’re not totally unoriginal, but a large portion of their style has been pilfered wholesale from the likes of Primal Scream, Stone Roses and any number of indie bands whose time in the sun dates back to the early 90s. But if we’re going to compare them to anyone from the previous decade, the obvious choice is Oasis whose fanbase they had succeeded in casually usurping over the course of the last few years – the Gallagher brothers weren’t re-inventing the wheel either when their debut landed in the charts, but they did succeed in bringing droves of lagered-up football fans into the record shops to partake of the phenomenon, something most of their contempories failed to do. Kasabian preached to the same congregation and saw their music instantly coupled with pissed-up festival crowds, smelly soccer hooligans and clusters of beery blokery at kicking out time in pub car parks across the nation. These are people you would rather not get stuck next to at a gig but it was hard to begrudge them their band of choice – Kasabian’s familiar blend of indie and dance provided the ideal soundtrack for a lairy night out or the half-time lull at Premier League games, it was entertainment for the masses and there was nothing round with that. ‘Club Foot’, to finally get onto the record at hand, was their debut statement of intent and pretty much sums up what they do well in four minutes – the lyrics are meaningless drivel, the music blunt force proto-Madchester thuggery and the delivery verging on boorish and irritating, but the end product was irresistible. More would follow in the same vein, but nobody’s looking tired of it for the time being.
Now that Oasis have finally closed the book, the lads from Kasabian wasted no time in declaring to the NME that they were now Britain’s biggest band – they might have some way to go before matching Noel & Liam’s vice-like grip over the nation’s airwaves back in the day, but for the moment you’d have to agree that there are few other serious contenders for the place at the top of British guitar music’s food chain. With a third hit album under their belts and pummeling live show to back it up with, there’s no sign of these guys dropping the ball any time soon.